Decades ago during the development of applied kinesiology Dr. George Goodheart proposed an association between specific skeletal muscles and other areas of the body. The muscle-organ relationship became an integral part of this new, assessment-based approach to patient care.
Today we know that a simple contraction of a particular muscle is sufficient to release myokinesinto the circulation. These muscular cytokins communicate with the entire body, including the brain, making the muscle-organ relationship an even more viable clinical model.
Among the many-paired parts of the body that Goodheart observed was the association between the supraspinatus muscle and the brain. While virtually all other neuromuscular relationships include organs and glands with relatively specific functions, such as the adrenals, stomach, and eyes, all are under the brain’s control. So when I first heard about the supraspinatus-brain association in 1974, I had to think more about it.
In a real sense, the brain controls virtually everything, with all body parts represented there. Potentially any muscle, organ or glandular problem could reflect some primary imbalance in the brain (a concept which is also the foundation of biofeedback).
So among the many associations, perhaps the supraspinatus-brain link must be questioned most. How accurate is this relationship? While we don’t really know yet, there’s a better question. With the full spectrum of brain injury being so widespread, why don’t we see an epidemic of supraspinatus impairments?
Like a damaged knee or neck, the brain can be injured too through some impairment of neural tissue or neurochemistry. We think of a serious brain injury as one caused by a whiplash or other local trauma, deprivation of oxygen, or some serious toxic chemical influence. While these events do occur, more people are adversely affected by other more functional conditions. Consider the effect on the brain from the stress hormone cortisol, side effects of alcohol consumption, poor gut performance, or an unstable blood sugar. No doubt that there are a preponderance of people around the world with some form of brain break down.
Some brain injuries develop early in life, and are frequently associated with neurological disorganization. These often go beyond reversing letters or patients who go supine when asked to lie face down. Some of these seemingly simple signs may be indications of more widespread injury, and they can’t be corrected with a quick stimulation of an acupuncture point.
Consider the person unable to understand lyrics when listening to a song—not usually thought of as a brain injury. This problem, often associated with other symptoms too, may be remedied by reading the lyrics while a song is being heard (often requiring several different songs over a few days). This simple remedy can result in an enormous number of neuronal interconnections being made, a powerful therapy leading to other benefits such as reduced distractions during learning or social interactions.
Other brain injuries develop later in life. Consider the seemingly temporary symptoms such as asenior moment, or the lack of concentration or sleepiness after meals. Even though the brain appears to recover from these abnormal episodes, they often worsen over the course of ones life, becoming an important indication of less-than-optimal health and reduced quality of life. These symptoms too are often relatively easy to control, especially when addressed in the earlier stages, with improved diet and nutrition.
Whether an almost silent, passing symptom, one that increases in frequency, or a chronic condition producing clear clinical signs, most brain injuries can be significantly improved, adequately adapted to, or eliminated with the appropriate individualized conservative therapy and lifestyle habits.
While Goodheart often emphasized the importance of a healthy lifestyle, most have focused on his teaching about muscle relationships. Today, we understand the physiology behind two important features of the brain influenced by lifestyle:
- Neural plasticity: the stimulation or recruitment of unused or underused synapses for improved function (including motor control).
- Neurogenesis: the production of new brain cells.
Yes, we can build a better brain at any age. Here are seven important ways to do it.
- If We’re Not Busy Being Born We’re Busy Dying. This is a paraphrase from the great singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. His lyrics were written around the same time Goodheart was formulating the important relationships of applied kinesiology in the mid-sixties. Presumably unaware of it, Dylan made a powerful neurophysiologic statement: By keeping our brains very active and fresh, we maintain high function. This means sustaining a high decree of sensory input and motor output, from a range of physical activity to regularly learning new things. It means challenging the brain’s intellectual, emotional and intuitive functions. In other words, never be bored.
- Keep Clear of Chronic Inflammation. The basic idea is simple—a bodywide inflammatory condition can significantly impair brain function both short and long term. Chronic inflammation is a common cause of most chronic diseases, along with many functional problems too. This condition can also impair the blood brain barrier. Due to the inflamed blood vessels, certain nutrients are unable to get into the brain. Choline is just one example, with low levels being associated with Alzheimer’s disease. A simple C-reactive protein blood test can help monitor chronic inflammation.
- Eat a Balance of Fats. This is a key component in controlling our inflammatory-anti-inflammatory mechanism. The fats we consume affect the essential fatty acid cascade influencing the balance of prostaglandins, leukotrienes, thromboxanes and other compounds collectively called eicosanoids. An important balance between omega-6 and -3 fats is best maintained. Studies show that a ratio of 5:1 or lower is best, but by using a dietary analysis, many diets are 10:1, 20:1, or even higher. The most common problem is a low intake of the omega-3 fat EPA, which only comes from animal sources (Flax and other n-3 fats contain alpha-linolenic acid which is poorly converted to EPA.) Also avoid trans fats as they can replace the brain’s healthy omega-3s.
- Avoid Eating Sugar and Flour. This may be one of the most important lifestyle recommendations for a healthy brain. Sugar and processed flour (almost all that’s in the marketplace) can injure the brain as quick as insulin is released (which typically begins during the oral phase of digestion). Likewise for other moderate and high glycemic carbohydrates–including other starches often used in packaged foods, and certain fruits like pineapple, grapes and bananas. In addition to lowering blood sugar, insulin reduces fat burning, forcing the body to use more glucose, restricting its availability in the brain. While ketone bodies can be used for energy by neurons, their production is impaired by insulin too. Moreover, insulin strongly promotes inflammation.
- Do Move. Not only can regular physical movement enhance locomotion, posture, independence and other factors associated with quality of life, it is a powerful brain therapy. Movement can significantly improve most if not all of the brain’s areas including those associated with speech, vision, balance, memory and even intellect. Non-stressful movements are best: dancing, walking, working around the house and garden, easy running, biking or swimming.
- Changing the Mind. Like shifting gears in a sports car for better performance, a healthy brain changes consciousness frequently. While evaluating patients, for example, we may be in a betastate—very attentive and able to multitask on the many aspects of patient care. A relaxed and alert state is alpha. This occurs during downtime perhaps at lunch or when unwinding at day’s end (or anytime when we have a spare few passing moments). Alpha produces very therapeutic effects for the whole body. While falling off to sleep, the brain drifts into delta. Unfortunately, too many people go there during the day, which is unnatural, unhealthy or often harmful (since it can cause human error such as while driving a motor vehicle).
- Sleep All Night. Recovery from each day is critical for a healthy brain, and it occurs during deep sleep. For adults, this means seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. An unhealthy brain may be unable to accomplish this task. Excess cortisol, blood sugar irregularity, physical impairment, and hormone imbalance are just some factors that can injure the brain preventing it from regular rest. The accumulation of sleep deficit can help maintain a vicious cycle that continually worsens brain function.
Of course, there are more ways to improve brain function. In addition to lifestyle stimulus, hands-on therapies can lead to better body mechanics, especially those associated with the head and neck. In addition to enhanced sensory and motor performance a healthy brain can also self-correct many muscular, glandular, organ and other body imbalances.